What to do if your cat has dandruff or dry skin

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What to do if your cat has dandruff or dry skin - A cat sitting on the floor itching their side

Dry skin and dandruff are often overlooked by pet parents as these concerns are rarely of great concern in human health. In fact, flaky skin and dandruff are often signs of an underlying medical concern in cats. Even mild dandruff or flakes in the fur might warrant a review with a veterinarian. If you have a cat, read on to learn:

  • How do I know if my cat has dandruff?
  • Can I treat my cat’s flaky skin?
  • Why does my cat have dandruff?
  • Can cat dandruff be prevented?
  • What do I do if my cat has dandruff?

Dandruff in cats is usually a sign that something else is going on that needs to be addressed. While human dandruff is not usually a significant medical concern, feline dandruff typically results from a disease such as ringworm, mites, or allergies. Once the underlying condition is successfully eliminated, feline dandruff is expected to go away. It’s important to talk to a vet any time you notice a change in your cat’s skin health to determine the cause and get advice on effective treatment.

What is feline dandruff?

Feline dandruff is a symptom characterized by white flakes on the skin and in a cat’s fur. Dandruff is not a skin condition itself and can be caused by a wide variety of other medical conditions or specific situations. Dandruff in cats can occur with dry skin or overly oily skin, depending on its underlying cause.

What does cat dandruff look like?

Dandruff refers to the white flakes found in a cat’s fur and on the skin. Other than flakes of dandruff, a cat may experience other symptoms, such as:

It’s important to consult with a vet any time you notice changes in your cat’s skin or coat. Feline skin issues are almost always caused by an underlying problem that needs to be addressed and treated by a veterinarian.

How can I help my cat’s flaky skin?

Dandruff and flaky skin in cats can be caused by a number of factors ranging from harmless to severe. It’s difficult to know what is causing a cat’s flaky skin without help from a vet. Symptomatic cat dandruff treatments such as fish oil supplements, special shampoos, or topical treatments should only be used when directed by a veterinarian. Note: It's not safe to use human dandruff shampoo on pets unless otherwise instructed by a veterinarian, as these products contain medications and other additives that can be toxic to pets. Always consult a veterinarian before using medications on pets.

Use year-round flea control products

Broad-spectrum flea control products help prevent external parasites that can cause dandruff, itchiness, and skin inflammation, such as:

Cats can be allergic to flea saliva, resulting in flea allergy dermatitis when they are bitten. This condition results in excessive itchiness and inflammation as well as an increased risk of secondary skin infections.

Treat other medical conditions and skin infections

Underlying conditions and skin infections can cause dry, flaky, and irritated skin. Treatments vary depending on the condition that is diagnosed. Treatments may include:

  • Parasite treatment and prevention
  • Diet change
  • Weight management
  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications
  • Medicated shampoos
  • Dietary supplements
  • Allergy treatments
  • Arthritis treatment and management
  • Ongoing treatment for other health issues

A veterinarian can help diagnose and treat these underlying medical conditions appropriately. Some conditions, such as allergies, require long-term treatment plans to keep the symptoms in check.

Groom your cat regularly

Regular grooming with brushes and combs helps distribute healthy oils to keep the skin healthy and moisturized. Brushing also helps remove buildup of dead skin cells that can flake off into the fur. Cats with mobility issues from arthritis, obesity, or injuries often need help grooming in hard-to-reach areas such as the lower back. In addition, matted fur or a buildup of the undercoat can trap shedding skin, resulting in irritation and flakiness. This can occur in both short and long-haired cats. If your cat requires bathing, avoid harsh shampoos and overly hot water. Remember to always thoroughly rinse the shampoo from the coat. A professional groomer or vet can help you choose the best products and bathing practices for your individual cat’s needs.

Invest in an air humidifier

Dry environments and the winter season can contribute to skin dryness in both cats and people. Investing in an air humidifier for your home may help with mild dry skin and dandruff. If your cat is showing other symptoms or severe dandruff, they most likely have another underlying cause and need to see a veterinarian.

Talk to a vet about diet and supplements

A balanced diet for a cat includes fatty acids and other essential nutrients to keep their skin and coat healthy. As a result, a poor diet can result in poor skin and coat health. Most commercial cat foods have enough fatty acids for the average cat. However, cats with specific conditions may require a special diet or supplements. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are often part of the treatment plan for conditions that cause dry skin, but may not be necessary in your situation. Talk to a vet to learn more about choosing an effective or appropriate supplement in a nutrition consultation.

What is causing my cat’s dandruff?

“Most of the time when a cat has dandruff, it’s due to an underlying condition and the dandruff goes away once that’s successfully treated,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “Diagnosing skin conditions can be complicated because they all look alike, so talk to a vet to learn more about what might be causing your cat’s dandruff.”

A graphic of the quote above

Some causes of dandruff are easily treated. Others are more difficult to diagnose and may require continuous care. A vet may recommend diagnostic tests such as skin scrapes and blood tests to determine the cause of your cat’s dandruff.

Environmental or food allergies

Fleas, ingredients in food, or pollen and other environmental allergens can cause allergic skin reactions in cats. Allergies in cats can flare up seasonally or be a year-round challenge for pet parents. Work with a veterinarian to find the best way to treat your cat’s allergies. Allergies cannot be cured but are instead managed long-term.

Parasites and other health conditions

External parasites, skin infections, and other medical conditions can affect skin health. Different conditions require varying diagnostic tests and treatments. These conditions include, but are not limited to:

Regular wellness checks and testing can help catch many of these conditions early to provide treatment before they severely affect the skin.

Difficulty grooming

Healthy cats groom regularly to distribute oils in the skin, remove dead skin cells, and comb through the fur. Cats with mobility problems cannot successfully reach their entire body, resulting in a buildup of skin cells, dry skin, and matted fur.

Dry air

Dry climates or dry winter air can cause mild dandruff and dry skin in cats. Using an air humidifier can help. Talk to a vet or groomer about other products that may help your cat’s mild dry skin that may be related to lack of humidity in their environment.

Does water intake affect a cat’s skin health?

Healthy cats naturally drink enough water to stay hydrated and keep their skin in tip-top shape. Cats who are chronically dehydrated due to an underlying medical condition may have poor skin health as one of their symptoms. Don’t assume your cat’s dry skin is the result of not drinking enough. Instead, work with a veterinarian to address the underlying cause.

Can I prevent dry, flaky skin in my cat?

Feline dandruff is usually caused by an underlying factor such as a skin infection, allergies, or improper grooming practices. Veterinary attention is needed any time you notice a change in your cat’s skin or coat to determine the underlying cause. You can help prevent dandruff and promote healthy skin in your cat by:

Many skin issues in cats can be prevented with routine wellness checks, daily brushing, a well-balanced diet, and preventing parasites with monthly flea and tick prevention.

What should I do if I see white flakes in my cat’s fur?

Since there are so many potential causes of unhealthy skin in cats, a check-in with a vet is necessary, even with a seemingly benign symptom like dandruff. If you notice a dandruff issue on your cat, check to ensure their food is nutritionally complete and their parasite control is up to date. Check for other symptoms such as:

  • Skin lesions, sores, or rash
  • Itchiness
  • The presence of parasites in the fur or on the skin
  • Other signs of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea

Even if your cat isn’t showing additional symptoms, it’s important to talk to a vet promptly and make a plan to identify and treat the underlying cause of your cat’s skin problem. Follow your veterinarian’s treatment plan, including all instructions related to:

  • Medications for underlying medical issues
  • Daily brushing
  • Using a humidifier
  • Giving fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid supplements
  • Changing food
  • Using special shampoos, conditioners, or other coat treatments

If you notice that your cat’s skin is dry, inflamed, or flaky, you can talk to an online vet in your area to get advice on testing and treatment.

FAQ - How to get rid of cat dandruff and flaky skin

What can you do for dandruff on a cat?

Mild dandruff may benefit from gentle brushing or bathing, but if that doesn’t help or if your cat is showing other signs of skin problems or illness, veterinary attention is required. Dandruff and flaky skin in cats are almost always caused by an underlying condition that needs medical treatment.

Should I bathe my cat if they have dandruff?

It’s best to use dandruff shampoos and other at-home treatments only when recommended by a veterinarian. Skin issues in cats, including dandruff, can be caused by a wide variety of health issues. It is possible that bathing a cat with dandruff can make the dandruff worse while the underlying cause may continue to progress.

Does brushing help a cat with dandruff?

Brushing can help with mild dandruff in cats by distributing natural skin oils, removing dead skin cells, and detangling the fur. Fur matting and undercoat buildup can also pull at the skin, causing dry, flaky, or inflamed skin underneath. Cats with mobility issues may also need additional help grooming if they cannot fully groom themselves. Brushing is often part of the treatment plan, but cats usually need specific intervention for the underlying condition that caused the dandruff in the first place such as parasite control or allergy medication.

Does wet food help with cat dandruff?

Dehydration does not cause dandruff in cats, so increasing water consumption with wet food will likely not help. Seek veterinary care any time your cat shows signs of unhealthy skin, as it is almost always caused by an underlying medical condition or a result of poor grooming practices.

Cat parents often wish that shedding wasn’t part of living with feline friends. Although shedding is unavoidable - even hairless breeds shed skin cells - it’s important to know when shedding is normal and when hair loss points to other health issues. Read on to learn:

  • Why does shedding in cats occur?
  • Can excessive hair loss be a sign of illness?
  • Can excessive shedding be prevented or treated?
  • Why do cats shed more in the spring?

Shedding is a way cats naturally keep their skin and coat healthy. Some cats, especially double-coated breeds, are especially heavy shedders and shed the most in the spring. Normal shedding in cats does not have other symptoms that negatively affect the skin. If symptoms such as itchiness or skin irritation are seen, they are likely caused by an underlying medical issue.

Why do cats shed?

Shedding is a healthy and normal process in cats. Shedding is important because it replaces dead hair with new, healthy fur. In addition, shedding helps distribute natural oils across the skin to keep it healthy and moisturized. Shedding can be year-round or seasonal in cats. Seasonal shedding occurs when a cat excessively sheds twice a year as it changes its coat for the upcoming season. Seasonal shedding helps cats stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Other than hairless breeds, all cats shed, and hairless breeds do shed dead skin cells, commonly referred to as dander.

What does normal shedding look like in cats?

The amount of fur a cat sheds varies depending on breed, genetics, grooming practices, and hair type. The amount of cat hair shed can appear excessive, especially in breeds with double coats, such as Maine coons, ragdolls, and Persian cats. Hair length does not usually affect how much a cat sheds, but gives the appearance of more shedding since a larger amount of hair is involved. A cat who is shedding normally is not expected to have:

“Shedding in cats is a normal process, even if the amount of hair loss seems excessive,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a veterinarian at Vetster. “Fall and spring shedding can be particularly heavy for seasonal shedders. As loose hair is lost due to shedding, the number of hairballs can also increase as cats groom themselves.”

Can shedding in cats be a sign of illness?

Excessive shedding can be a sign of illness. While shedding normally, a cat’s skin looks healthy and clear with no bald spots or unusual hair thinning. Poor skin and patchy hair loss can point to medical conditions such as:

Allergic reactions due to flea or environmental allergies most commonly affect the skin and coat, leading to excessive shedding. Injuries such as scrapes and burns can cause hair loss as well as extreme stress and nutritional deficiencies. It’s important for cat owners to talk to a vet any time they notice a change in their cat’s skin or coat health to ensure there is not an underlying problem.

Can I prevent my cat from shedding?

Normal shedding is healthy and cannot be prevented. However, cat hair in the home from excessive shedding can be minimized by a regular grooming routine at home. Professional grooming sessions can also help control the mess associated with excessive shedding. Lint rollers can also help remove excess hair from clothing and furniture. Unhealthy hair loss can be prevented by:

Talk to a veterinarian and a groomer to learn what brushes will work best for your cat’s coat and what prevention measures you can take to maintain healthy skin and a healthy coat.

Can vets treat cat shedding and hair loss?

Shedding is a healthy, natural process that cannot be treated or prevented by a veterinarian. Instead, the amount of pet hair in the home can be reduced with regular grooming and cleaning. Unhealthy hair loss in cats can be treated by vets after a diagnosis is made with the help of diagnostic testing. Treatments vary depending on the underlying cause but may include:

  • Medications for bacterial or fungal infections
  • Flea treatment and control
  • Diet change
  • Addressing stressors
  • Other treatments for underlying medical conditions

Why does my cat shed more in the spring?

Spring shedding occurs when the thick winter coat is shed and replaced with a lighter coat for the spring and summer months. Double-coated breeds are more likely to experience noticeable spring shedding, but any cat can shed seasonally. Seasonal allergies and flea allergies may also cause abnormal hair loss and skin irritation in the warmer months. Unlike normal shedding, these conditions will also show additional symptoms such as itchy skin. Any sudden changes in skin or coat health require veterinary attention. If you have questions about your furry friend’s excessive shedding, you can connect with an online vet near you who can help you determine if it is normal and offer advice on keeping the excess hair under control.

FAQ - Is your cat’s seasonal shedding normal?

What months do cats shed the most?

Some cats shed more in the fall and spring months as they prepare for the upcoming change in temperature. Spring shedding can appear much heavier as the winter coat is replaced with a lighter summer coat.

Why does my indoor cat shed so much?

Both indoor and outdoor cats experience heavy shedding throughout the year, which is natural and healthy for the skin and coat. Shedding cannot be stopped or prevented, but various tactics can help keep the pet hair under control in the home, such as regular brushing, cleaning the home frequently, and visiting a professional groomer.

What does it mean when cats shed?

Shedding in cats occurs when dead hair falls out and is replaced by new, healthy hair growth. Shedding also keeps the skin healthy by distributing natural oils. Some cats shed seasonally as their coat becomes thicker or thinner for the upcoming season changes.

What cat breeds are heavy shedders?

Nearly every cat breed sheds, but double-coated breeds typically shed the most. Excess shedding occurs in the spring as the heavy winter undercoat falls out and is replaced by a lighter undercoat to keep cool in the summer. Double-coated cat breeds include Maine coons, Persians, ragdolls, Norwegian forest cats, and Manx cats. Single-coated, long-haired cats do not necessarily shed more than short-haired cats.